Park Board wants 100% independence

The following article was posted on the Minneapolis Issues Forum list by Powderhorn resident Shawne FitzGerald on July 2, 2009. It poses some intriguing questions.

Park Board wants 100% independence

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board last night voted unanimously to charge ahead with seeking its own charter amendment, one that if approved would make them an entirely independent governmental unit. No more reliance on the Board of Estimate and Taxation for such things as tax levy-setting and key for Park Board commissioners no worries about whatwould happen if the City Council were to get the BET’s powers.

Park Board Commissioners pledged to start collecting petition signatures fora charter change at Powderhorn on the 4th of July. But signators won’t know what they are supporting. Where are the proposed amendments to the City Charter? More importantly, where is the draft charter or other authority for a completely independent park board?

Some at Park Watch are trying to envision a completely independent Park Board. We have a few questions. How will the new Park Board be legally organized? How many Park Board Commissioners will there be and how and when will they be elected? How will reapportionment work? Will the new MPRB eliminate at-large representation because of the negative impact of IRV on the at-large races? Or will all Park Board Commissioners be elected at-large so reapportionment is not an issue? Will Park Board Commissioner become a paid position?

With staff? What happens to the purchasing function now handled by the City of Minneapolis? What happens to the financial protections currently in the charter and ordinances? What about contract compliance and civil rights enforcement?

The City attorney also reviews certain Park Board contracts. Will the new Park Board have an in-house legal department?
The City also handles all the Park Board funds so it appears the Park Board would need a vastly expanded finance department. The City handles Park Board hiring. Will the Park Board need a new civil service department? What will the deal be with the Park Board police – they are now tied in with the MPD. What will an independent Park police forcelook like?

The stiff regulations that make it tough to sell off parkland, including the need for district court review, are in the City Charter. Will the newly constituted Park Board abide by this or is this a plan to make it easier for the Park Board to sell off land? In this charter change, will the voters be granting the Park Board taxing authority? What will this look like? What will be the constraints? (My recollection is that the MPRB Commissioners have asked for the maximum levy,about 10%, in recent years – because they knew they would be held to less by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.) What recourse will individual taxpayers have under the new system? Will this change mean that the Park Board is no longer eligible for CLIC funds?

Will all Park Board bonding go through the State? What about the role of citizens in this process? I note that the Park Board current bonding requests to the State didn’t even go through Committee, there was no chance for citizen review and input. CLIC currently provides a citizen input avenue for bonds backed by the City. In recent years, the Park Board has been weak on citizen participation: notice, review and input. What roles will citizens have in this new Park Board? Where is this written? Who is paying for the Park Board to campaign on charter changes?

The Park Board has a PAC – something like Parks Past, Present, and Future. Is the Park Board willing to voluntarily disclose on a monthly or bi-monthly basis so we can see the money behind this radical change? I understand that the Park Board fears that Ostrow’s amendment to eliminate the BET will pass and that the Park Board will then be financially strangled by the City. This has not happened yet.

With or without the Ostrow amendment, it might be a good idea to have a totally separate Park Board. This is a major decision, one that deserves planning and study. It’s too important to be lowered to the level of a popularity-based petitioning campaign at Powderhorn Park on the 4th of July. We need to see the actual charter language and any related ordinances. We deserve to know what this new government will look like. We need to know how we will be taxed and what protections are in place for our tax dollars. We ought to know if this proposal will cost more than the Park Board currently pays for admin – especially for finance, purchasing, contract compliance, legal, and police – and how this will affect current services.

Commissioners, please provide details! Please post the proposed charter amendments and all related documents online. Please give us a projected budget for the changes this new government would require.

Shawne FitzGerald, Powderhorn